Hope for Family Caregivers – by, Becky Henry, CPCC


Happy May Day! After a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad April (yes, it was that bad and I know I’m not alone in this), I’m very happy it is May and my intention is that it will be MAHvelous (thank you Billy Crystal for that word). This is my HOPE.

Families with whom I’ve spoken over the 16+ years of coaching parents & other family caregivers of those with eating disorders have shared that it’s difficult during the journey to have hope. That’s an understatement.

Some parents tell me they feel like running away. Some feel like giving up. Some are planning a child’s funeral because they’ve lost all hope. Every day 23 people lose their lives to eating disorders and many more lose the life they’ve known and live a shadow of their former lives.

Of course people struggle to have hope. 

And when parents ask me what they can do to help their child, it’s often not well received when I encourage them to have hope. That doesn’t seem like an action step. And it often seems impossible and not very realistic in the face of the reality of what they are living. Daily, parents and other family members are trying to keep a loved one from dying from suicide. They see hope as a fool’s path. Yet science tells us otherwise.

Longtime readers of my blog and newsletter, first of all thank you! You may recognize this blog/newsletter as I shared it previously in 2019 and am revising and repurposing today as I am being GENTLE with myself as I come out of what is very likely Covid (even though I was 4 times vaccinated – thank goodness or I may have been in the hospital). PCR test results won’t be in until Monday or Tuesday. Been sick all week from exposure. After over 2 years of extreme caution I’m rather ticked off to say the least. Will be masking indoors from now on with anyone new in my home, learned a lesson. Not doing this again. If you come visit me, I will be masking and asking you to mask up in my home.

I had the privilege in 2019 of attending a conference in Omaha put on by the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa & Nebraska Eating Disorders Network.

In the keynote, “Psychology of Happiness, a Provider and Patient Perspective” – Dr. Ralph Carson, RD, LD, PhD and ERC National Recovery Advocate Shannon Kopp

We learned about the brain and neuroscience from Dr. Carson and how Shannon was able to change her brain while working with dogs. Together they showed us how a person can grow the number of cells in the Left Prefrontal Cortex region of the brain. And why that makes people happier and able to function without their eating disorders behaviors.

When we understand what is happening in the brain and how people with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other brain illnesses don’t have enough cells in the part of the brain (Left Pre-frontal Cortex) which defines happiness, it can increase our compassion.

When we increase our compassion, it reduces our frustration so we can utilize new tools and skills.

There are many ways to increase the number of cells in the Left Pre-frontal Cortex of the brain! You can see the webinars Shannon Kopp and Eating Recovery Center do here at Say It Brave.

One of the main ways to increase the number of cells in the left pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is to have a BELIEF in HOPE– this actually makes new cells in the PFC.

Placebo – believe in act of getting better

Nocebo – don’t believe in getting better

Dr. Ralph Carson shared information about the impact of hope with us from a study of people with chronic back pain. Participants got 1 of 3 treatment options, the people who had the most pain relief were those who believed in the practitioner. The 3 groups listed here in my notes from that day show the treatments the groups received.

  1. Traditional medical care with drugs and PT
  2. Certified acupuncture
  3. Sham acupuncture

Surprisingly, it was the people who got #3 – Sham acupuncture who got the most pain relief. And the difference was that they all had a practitioner who told them it would work. They had hope.

Hope needs continuous renewal.

Practice hope, journal, use a gratitude journal and get support!

For parents and other family caregivers of those with eating disorders and so many co-occurring disorders, hope is needed to sustain oneself. And it’s needed to give hope to loved ones to improve their chances of recovery.

Dr. Ralph Carson shared some keys that help bring happiness for both caregivers and loved ones in recovery. Here are 12 that I captured.

12 Keys to more happiness and freedom from suffering for caregivers and those with; ed/alcoholism/etc – all help on the ROAD to permanent recovery: (look closely & you may see the word “HOPE” in the sand in this photo)

  1. HOPE for better future
  2. FAITH/BELIEF in something greater than ourself/ in a higher power.
  3. KNOWLEDGE of what is.
  4. FORGIVENESS
  5. Have another BELIEVE in us and support us
  6. RESILIENCE
  7. MEDITATION – Seligman – concept of “One with the Universe” Dr. Davidson U of WI
  8. ALTRUISM – doing w/out concern for self – creates new cells in L pfc
  9. GRATITUDE – authentic – creates in cells in L pfc
  10. RELATIONSHIPS w/people I can confide in w/out fear of embarrassment or being judged – creates new cells in L pfc – SUPPORT SYSTEM from peep who have been through what they’ve been through
  11. PASSION – having passion about something/anything
  12. MOVEMENT that is joyful

Let’s talk about how you or families you know of can get more support to implement these tools.

Your loved ones need you to be operating with a full cup and a calm, compassionate and confident state. We are here to help with that. You don’t have to do it alone.

Please welcome our newest sponsor, Life Cycle Nutrition founded by Krista Godfrey, RD. We’re so grateful that Krista sees the difference that support for the caregivers makes for treatment outcomes. You can read more about her support for families who are utilizing the FBT approach. You can see more about the program below in the Sponsor Listing.

Krista is a registered dietitian nutritionist that has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders since 2011, primarily working with children & adolescents and their parents.  Her experience includes working in a variety of different levels of care including acute inpatient hospitalization, a partial eating disorder treatment program and outpatient nutrition counseling.

She is the founder of an exclusive, virtual eating disorder nutrition program called Family Feeding Recovery that is designed to support Family Based Treatment by providing parents the nutrition information, resources, guidance, support, and community they need to nutritionally rehabilitate their child.

The treatment of eating disorders is more than a career for her, it’s a cause that she’s passionate about!  She has volunteered in the community to spread awareness and education about eating disorders since she was an undergraduate student, and is still volunteering locally by serving as a board member of the Nebraska Eating Disorder Network.

When she’s not working or volunteering, you’ll find her with her husband and four children watching sporting events, training her dogs, playing volleyball or traveling.





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